Confessions of a Total Rewards Convert

Harrah's Casino Marketing Technology Works

Posted by MikeE

Total Rewards Convert

Benny Binion once said that high rollers want to hang out with high rollers and low rollers want to hang out with high rollers. In other words, build a casino which strives to attract the highest end clientele and - even in these crazy economic times - you'll naturally get a piece of everyone's action no matter what their budget.

And that may be why I've never been a fan of Harrah's. Even as a spoiled Californian living a three and a half hour drive away, I don't flirt with a speeding ticket through the lifeless Mojave to stay at a place that doesn't inspire me. I like architecture and I like interior design. I like luxury and the idea that I can stay in a renovated version of the same rooms (and at a very reasonable cost) that the late Kerry Packer retired to after he took MGM Grand for $22 million in one night.

So why should I like Harrah's when the highest end they can offer is a grossly overpriced suite in a clusterfuck-of-a-floor-plan Caesars? What inspiration can I find in a company that hasn't built from scratch a single casino in my favorite city?

Yes, I must admit that I tend to get emotional over resorts that, to many people, are nothing more than a place to rest their heads and bet a few hands, but I digress...

Despite a network of some of the most boring casinos in North America, Harrah's has their fair share of die-hard fans thanks almost entirely to their Total Rewards program. Yes, the same program that puts Bartholomew Baccarat from Hong Kong in the same Diamond Lounge as Sally Slots from Odessa, it seems Total Rewards rolls out the red carpet for the slot junkies and gives the shaft to table games players. As a gambler who dedicates 90% of his play to pai gow poker and baccarat, Harrahs' loyalty program made me no more of a fan. Furthermore, the idea of being just a number in their system and obliterating any sense of personal, discretionary compage was even less attractive.

I had always had a Total Rewards account but never so much as ran a single dollar through their system for reasons mentioned above. But last week, out of complete boredom, a friend of mine and I decided to pass a couple hours at the penny slots of Harrah's Rincon a gorgeous hour and a half drive away. With only $80 between the two of us (because I save the real bankroll for Vegas), a little luck, and my one account shared jointly, we lasted a solid five hours before getting wiped out and heading home.

Total Rewards Comps

Fast forward two days later and I check my Total Rewards account online only to find that I'm comped in every Harrah's casino outside of Las Vegas including, in many properties, some of the higher-end room inventory. Vegas rates also appeared to be steeply discounted. In addition, the ease of use of the site and no-mystery comp system was a welcome change - I like being "just a number in their system" and knowing exactly what my play warrants; it boggles the mind that after so many years, no other casino loyalty program has nearly as comprehensive of a Web presence as Total Rewards.

So does this change my opinion about Harrah's? As a Vegas fanatic, no. It'd take a lot of effort to sway me from the recent generosity of MGM Mirage or the rock bottom deals at Wynncore. But to know I can rest my head gratis at any of Harrahs' non-Vegas destinations - places where I don't take the gambling or culture nearly as seriously - is a welcome notion.

Consider me a Total Rewards convert.

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Comments & Discussion

Some good points are made, but wait 6 months and 1 day, when you immediately go from welcomed, valued guest to someone they wouldn't urinate on if you were somehow mysteriously on fire.

Yeah, it's funny Mike. Chuck and I used to be huge Harrah's players. Mainly cause our Vegas buddies loved staying at Paris and they always had great luck. We ended up spending a full year staying at Harrahs' joints, then another full year scarfing up the comps we racked up, but only cause it was comp'd. By that time we had discovered the Wynn and realized that you do indeed get what you pay for.

What's surprising is that I've not put any points/credits on my Total Rewards card in over a year, and I can still get some decent room rates in Vegas (and on certain dates, comped nights).

During the year or so I was strictly a Harrah's Entertainment gambler in Vegas, the only places I could get comped nights at (at least that I looked at) were at the Grand Casino Tunica (Now Harrah's Tunica). The TR room rates I could get at the Grand Casino Biloxi or Harrah's New Orleans were higher than what I could get at nearly all of the HET properties in Vegas. I looked at A.C., and some of the properties were competitive to the Vegas rates.

If you've not had the chance to read "Winner Takes All" by Christina Binkley, it's worth a read just for all of the background info and history on the Total Rewards program.

OK, so free or really cheap rooms at a place I probably will never stay is one benefit. HOWEVER... earlier this spring, my wife and I finally decided to go see Jubilee. I went over to Bally's to get four tickets for the two of us and another couple. I don't have a lot of points on my Total Rewards account because I hardly ever play at a Harrah's property, but the TR website indicates I've got enough to redeem for a pair of Penn & Teller tickets. So I figure surely I have enough points to get a few tickets to Jubilee, which retail for about half of what Penn & Teller costs. WRONG. I hand my card to the cashier at the box office and tell him I'd like to redeem my points for some Jubilee tickets and asked him what he could do for me. He ACTUALLY LAUGHED and told me I had "HARDLY ANY POINTS AT ALL." I told him the TR website indicated I could get a pair of Penn & Teller tickets for about half of my points balance. He told me I could go see Penn & Teller. I couldn't believe it. I ended up paying cash and seeing the show, but I'm not in a hurry to go back to a Harrah's property.

I have not had sucess with Total Rewards giving me any sort of comps or deals on rooms. When I check my account, I have nearly 8000 points on it, but it also says I have no offers. Now maybe this has something to do with the fact I have one of the Total Rewards Visa cards and get points for regular purchases. But you would think they would want to give me some sort of offer to get me into a casino.

My next Vegas trip is scheduled for November. At that time I will use up my Total Rewards points to pay for buffets at the Rio Carnival World Buffet. After the points are gone, I will cancel the Total Rewards Visa and get a card that gives actual cash back.

I meant to add in my earlier post that I had also gotten junket offers as well. One for Harrah's Reno and one for Harrah's Tunica. The Reno one was tempting except I would have had to drive about two and a half to three hours to Montgomery, Alabama to catch the charter flight to Reno. I almost booked the Tunica junket, as the charter flight was from Atlanta, but opted instead to go to Vegas.

I signed up for TR during a business trip to New Orleans a couple years ago. Since that time, I've gotten monthly mailings that have included free/reduced nights, free buffet passes, and other enticements. All this for about 2 hours of craps the night before I left town. I have not taken advantage of these offers, only because NO is not someplace I would choose to go on my personal time. I give Harrah's credit for their persistence, however.

Harrah's Total Rewards:

The first time I was in Las Vegas was the Summer of 1964 during the family grand tour of the United States. We stayed at The Stardust. My mother wanted to show us children what a bad idea gambling was so she sat us down at a slot machine at the edge of the casino floor and put a nickel in the machine for each of us. My turn was first and my nickel returned 15 cents. Some lesson!

Eventually I grew up, moved to Southern California and got married to a gambler. The NYSE, Las Vegas, she's all over the action like white on rice. So, the car knows the way to Las Vegas by itself and we stayed at The Stardust for two decades. The Stardust had their Slot Club and we were spoiled with deals and comps as if we were players.

Then Harrahs Rincon was built in San Diego County and she starts playing there and at some of the other Native American casinos by herself or with her girlfriends. It's an hour and a half from home instead of the four hours to Las Vegas. I should make it clear, she wins some, sometimes big, but always loses more no matter the venue. To continue, she begins to accumulate Total Rewards points and then Harrahs starts to comp us in Las Vegas for the Rincon play. I can't remember the last time we paid for a room except for the Motel 6 on Tropicana when we can't find a dog sitter, it's been maybe 20 years.

We get free rooms at all the Las Vegas properties, weekends included, the exception being Caesars. We get all kinds of extras such as food, gifts and WSOP satellite tourneys. Our last trip to the Rio resulted in a fabulous multi room suite for Friday and Saturday night which we enjoyed more than our comp'ed "suite" at 'Encore' on Sunday. I think the whole TR program is terrific.

Great article Mike. I can appreciate the MGM and Wynn preference. But it's really hard not to enjoy the ability to go to multiple cities on the cheap. Unfortunately there system also does a fairly good job of establishing ADT later and limiting comps after an initial period. So if you are looking at booking any of the comps and don't plan on future play, I'd suggest booking before you play. The nice thing about TR is as long as your first night is free, it's $0 for deposit and I've booked as far as a year in advance for a room, just in case my play on an upcoming trip stinks.

So get this... back when Park Place Entertainment had properties in Vegas, it used to be a good place to gamble and get comps. I also thought the machines were set at a decent payback for the strip. Once Harrah's bought Park Place, I noticed that all the properties went down hill. I used to gamble a lot of Paris and Caesar's Palace. I actually happened to be staying at Paris when they were doing the conversion of Park Place to Total Rewards. I was playing aQuack Shot $1 slot at Harrah's and noticed something strange was happening where the player points were displayed -- it seemed to be giving me a ton of points after each spin. After playing about 20 minutes, it appeared as if my point balance was huge (up to this point I had hardly any points). I went to the player's desk and the agent said to me WOW! It looks like you having been playing a lot. You are now a Diamond Member and you have more $600 in comps available. As I had only put $100 or so into the machine, I knew something was wrong but gladly accepted the Diamond card and waited a day to see if they would catch it before I started to use them. Nope, they were mind. Thanks Harrah's.

Diamond benefits were good at first-- I even got a call when I got home from a Host inviting me to call him back so he could introduce himself. I did the math and to get $600 in comps (which I quickly used up) I would have had to gamble $18K. When I returned home the offers from Harrah's came in the mail almost daily. On the TR web site I had about 150 various offers. Free nights (up to 5) at Caesar's in a Palace Tower room, etc. I actually qualified myself the next year (with all those free offers I got I made several trips to Vegas and gambled with them) but I only played there once last year and didn't qualify at all and now am back to the standard card with a whopping 2 offers. I checked today and believe it or not I can still get a comp room at the Imperial Palace (can you say dive?). Why on earth would someone used to staying in an upgraded room at Caesar's Place want to stay at the Imperial Palace? Are they nuts?

I now play at Palazzo (owned by Sands) and at Wynn/Encore. I actually get great offers from Sands (3-4 comp nights) and receive mail weekly. Being a gold card member they are very generous with bonus points as well. A few years ago I showed the Club Grazie folks my Diamond card and they gave me a courtesy upgrade to Gold Status... which gets you into the lounge for snacks (no free booze though like Harrah's). Since then I've easily qualified for Gold status and the offers are pouring in

I played a while at Wynn (not as a guest) and heard nothing from them. Recently, they gave me an offer for two free nights and one night at $99 along with $150 in free slot play (I won $1K with it, thanks Steve). The room was great with a nice view of the South Strip. That said, I'm standing with Sands because I like the Palazzo and they are way more generous with their offers.

In short, Harrah's is history to me-- I have no interest in being loyal to them (while I was Diamond, they cut hours, took away breakfast and cut out premium liquor brands last year). The rooms are great at both Sands and Wynn but I hardly get any offers from Wynn.

Tip: You can upgrade to a really nice suite at the Palazzo during check-in for $150 - $200 a night (you have to ask them). It's worth it when you want to feel like a real VIP. They now want to charge you for a room with a view but I remind them at check-in that I'm a gold card holder which entitles you to a free upgrade (subject to availability). It's worked every time.

Another Tip: The drinks at Encore (while gambling) are great! You won't get that watered down stuff you get at other casinos.

I am a Total Rewards "Gold" Card member. I go to Vegas maybe twice a year, three if I am lucky. I am a measly penny slot button pusher. On occasion I will play nickels and sometimes quarters. But because of this I have had my last 2 trips comped. One for 4 nights the other for 5. One at Harrah's and the other at Bally's. Could have had great rates at Ceasar's and at Paris. But who can turn down a free room. And one was a strip-view that I did not ask for. Sure they were in the middle of the week, but it's Vegas and it's free. Got another mailer last month. Going in September and I think I am going to stay at Flamingo. All comped. Now if I can only find some cheap prices for airfare.

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